Caça Fantasmas: Brazil's Hi-Tech Ghost Hunters Turn Catholic Mysticism Inside Out
The rise in popular culture of ghost hunting has had a big but strange effect in Brazil. YouTubers and bloggers aim to create a bridge between Brazilian popular spiritism and American ghost-hunting.
Ghost hunting has become a popular activity around the world recently, riding the wave of successful TV shows like Ghost Hunters
Despite the lack of any conclusive evidence of the existence of ghosts, even after years of high-tech searching, many still find it an immersive and meaningful pastime — having helped launch crowded conventions of enthusiasts and specialty stores offering equipment and kits to go searching for ghosts.
In Brazil, this new popularity fits into a broader historic investigation and explanation of the apparent supernatural from the domain of religions — though it is increasingly focused on high-tech gear and the hope of achieving internet fame and glory.
On YouTube, two Brazilian channels stand out: Rosa Jaques and João Tocchetto, a pair from Rio Grande do Sul calling themselves the “Caça-Fantasmas Brasil” (Ghost-Hunters Brazil), and a group from Guaratinguetá (SP), called the “KBC Caçadores de Fantasmas” (KBC Ghost-Hunters).
Jaques and Tocchetto have been working together since the 1990s, and their YouTube channel dates back to 2008, with around 390,000 subscribers. Their work can be considered a bridge between Brazilian popular spiritism – which mixes the spiritist doctrine itself with Afro-Brazilian systems, Catholic mysticism and folkloric superstitions – and the American style of ghost-hunting.
Jaques, the star of the show and main figure of the duo, presents himself as a sensitive or seer who communicates with the “energies” and “spirits” which he says he finds in “haunted" places, hoping to convince them to leave and rest in peace.
The couple's videos feature beeping electromagnetic field detectors, night camera footage and occasional scares in dark corners, but in the end they portray performances of a very peculiar version of what the national spiritist doctrine calls a “disobsession session” – a moment in which disoriented spirits receive the necessary instruction to move forward.
The couple do not present themselves as spiritists and refuse to identify with any religion, although they insist on respect for all. In an interview with the podcast Intelligence Ltda, Jaques and Tocchetto describe a particular worldview: that of God as a “vortex at the center of everything” and of humanity as the product of artificial insemination experiments carried out by extraterrestrials on prehistoric primates.
There is no way to consider them scientific investigators: they believe they already have all the answers, tools and explanations they need – their job is to put this “knowledge” into practice to rescue souls. It is more of a mythology assembled from many different sources, perhaps even a meta-religion.
A member of a hobby ghost hunter team demonstrates the use of a camera with infrared light during a press event in the barrel cellar of the Ludwigsburg Residence Palace.
Spirit Box in Guaratinguetá
The KBC group, on the other hand, is much closer to the model of the American reality show Ghost Hunters, but with a particular outfit (and vocabulary) from the interior of São Paulo. Their YouTube videos are produced with animations and a soundtrack, edited to highlight unsettling moments and build suspense, which often feels forced. The team leader, João Paulo, does his best to keep the others in a state of suggestibility and constant apprehension. Their physical appearance and attitude are reminiscent of Jason Howes, the original leader of the American Ghost Hunters show.
The agile narrative technique and the more entertainment-oriented construction make the difference: even with less time on the road, the channel has three times as many subscribers as Jaques and Tocchetto.
There is no theory linking the readings of these devices to the presence of supernatural entities.
Their use of technology is extensive, including a so-called spirit box – a radio receiver that scans AM and FM frequencies and plays random snippets of broadcasts it finds. Ghost hunters interpret these snippets as spiritual manifestations, despite the fact that they are obviously words and phrases taken from normal radio station programming, in addition to noise and static.
KBC started as a humor channel (“Kid Boy Chechéu”) before specializing in the paranormal, and today it has a team of four investigators – João Paulo Fabrício dos Santos, Josenir Américo, Gleison Vinícius da Silva and Pedro Henrique de Melo Santos. It also has two permanent sponsors – a computer store and a “witch of power, healer of light” on Instagram, who offers consultations via WhatsApp.
Unlike the couple from the Caça-Fantasmas Brasil channel, who base their conclusions on the supposed special powers of Rosa Jaques and her particular mythology, KBC relies on the reading of its instruments – thermometer, electromagnetic field and, what seems to be the current star of the show, the spirit box. This gives a sense of scientific precision to what they do. The problem is that there is no consistent theory linking the readings of these devices to the presence of supernatural entities. There is not even a consistent theory about the existence of such entities.
As even Troy Taylor, host of the podcast American Hauntings, and author of one of the most respected guides on haunting in the US ghost hunting community, "Ghost Hunters’ Guidebook," equipment such as the electromagnetic field detector is used "in theory, not in absolute fact. We believe they can pick up distortions in energy fields caused by ghosts – we believe, but we don't know.”
"House condemned by a priest" by KBC Ghost-Hunters on Youtube
Haunted elephant in the room
Ghost hunting using supposedly scientific equipment is an example of what epidemiologist John Ioannidis calls a "null field" – an area of research where there are no real effects, where all measured effects are nothing but errors, random fluctuations and biases. The physicist Victor Stenger explains:
“The uncomfortable reality that ghost hunters carefully avoid – the elephant in the tiny haunted room – is, of course, that no one has ever proven that these devices actually detect ghosts. The alleged connection between ghosts and electromagnetic fields, cold temperatures, radiation, strange photographs, etc. is based on nothing more than hunches, unproven theories and wild conjecture.”
Or, as historian Colin Dickey wrote to The Atlantic magazine:
“All this [ghost busting] technology works on more or less the same principle: generating lots of static and random effects, hoping to capture random noise and other passing phenomena. The ghost hunter, in turn, looks for patterns, momentary convergences, and meaningful coincidences. For the believer, that is where the ghosts remain: in the static, in the defects, in the smudges”.
If Brazilians interested in ghosts want to follow an American example, I suggest they leave Ghost Hunters aside and be inspired by people like Kenny Biddle – an ex-ghostbuster who is now dedicated to seriously investigating alleged paranormal phenomena, but in search of explanations that really make sense, not scares or audience numbers.
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